Thursday, June 30, 2016

Superior Photo Destination: Michigan's Upper Peninsula

If you seek a remote place for wild and scenic photographic opportunities, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, known as the UP to locals, is one of those below the radar places with something for almost any photographer. This narrow peninsula is bounded by the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan to the south and the scenic Lake Superior coast forms the northern boundary. Part of Lake Huron also frames the eastern UP. It is connected to the rest of Michigan by the impressive Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mackinaw) which spans the Straits of Mackinac and is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. The largest cities are Sault Saint Marie (population 75,000) to the east and hugging the Lake Superior shoreline further west is Marquette (population 21,000). The cities of Duluth, Minnesota and Green Bay, Wisconsin can also serve as bases for excursions into the UP. Many small-quaint towns dot the landscape and most will have a family run diner or other places to eat and comfortable lodging. 

Canada Dogwood or Bunchberry

With two national forests (The Hiawatha and Ottawa), over 2 million acres of state forest land, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Isle Royale National Park, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and many other state and local parks the UP has a wide range of photographic locales.

At this northern latitude summer days are long, but the summer season is very short with the peak of summer being July. Daytime temperatures are usually comfortable and with occasional cool or hot stretches, but bring your insect repellent. Mosquitoes and biting flies can be a nuisance, especially in June and July. Evenings and and nights can be cool, so bring a light jacket. 

Union River, Porcupine Mountains

For summer shooting there are over 200 waterfalls in the UP including Tahquamenon Falls, the photogenic Bond Falls and even some waterfalls that flow more than 100 feet down mineral-stained sandstone cliffs to Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Many waterfalls are best in spring or early summer, when runoff from melting snow supplies ample water. Several books are available to provide detailed information on almost all of the waterfalls. Summer sunrises and sunsets over Lake Michigan and Lake Superior can be incredible spectacles to photograph.

Sunrise Over Lake Superior

Sugar maple, aspen, ash, birch, oak and other hardwood trees can put on a spectacular autumn display. This may start as early as September and may only last a few short weeks. Must visit places in the fall include the Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and Council Lake on the Hiawatha National Forest. Spring, the other short-shoulder season, begins in May and can yield awesome displays of woodland wildflowers.

Winter is by far the longest season and some places receive an average of over 200 inches of snowfall. Access to remote areas is often by snowmobile or snowshoe hiking. Spectacular ice formations such as the Eben Ice Caves on the Hiawatha National Forest or the huge frozen falls at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are unique photographic opportunities.

Moose, wolves bears, deer and other wildlife inhabit forests throughout the UP, but due to the dense vegetation most people will never see many of these animals, especially the elusive wolves. The Seney National Wildlife Refuge is however a great place for loons, ducks, geese and other waterfowl.

If you want to get away from some of the crowded national parks, try Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. It is actually closer to Canada than the US and it is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Thus, it is one of the least visited national parks. However, Isle Royale National Park has beautiful rocky bays and inlets to Lake Superior, wolves, moose and trails throughout the 48-mile long island. There are no roads for cars on the island and lodging is either at the park service lodges at Rock Harbor and Windigo or in a tent.

To top it all off, the UP is one of the best places in the lower 48 states to see and photograph the northern lights. Although the Aurora Borealis can been seen any time of year, on a clear winter night in a remote area of the UP skies are plenty dark to view and photograph the northern

Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountains

So, if you really want to get away from the crowds as well as summer heat and humidity while photographing fantastic waterfalls, fantastic sunrises and sunsets over the great lakes and other amazing spring, fall or winter scenery you may want to consider Michigan's Upper Peninsula.